Troublesome Topic: Brain Structure and Reinforcement

Reinforcement and Streamlining

Our brain is designed to reinforce certain actions in order to make them fast and effortless. When it comes to actions involving muscles, we call this “muscle memory,” without which we would not be able to get out of bed, much less hold a job or even prepare and eat food. For instance, there are 22 muscles in the shoulder alone, and around 70 in each arm. Are you capable of telling each muscle how much to move and how much effort to exert for each movement you desire? Each recognizable muscles, such as the biceps and the triceps, include thousands of muscle motor units. Are you capable of deciding how many motor units of each muscle need to “fire” in order to do what you want to do? Thankfully you and I don’t have to do that. The brain has learned how many motor units to fire at one time to get that set of muscle fibers to do what it wants them to do. It is truly an amazing system God has put in place. One of the keys is that that body learns through repetition how to accomplish a task.

The same can be said of other functions of the brain that do not involve skeletal muscles. The neurons of the brain are connected by electrical “wiring” and also with the use of chemicals within the body. The brain learns how to make certain mental processes happen more quickly. We work at learning our multiplication tables until the brain finally makes those electrical connections become automatic, and it uses chemicals to engrave those math facts into the brain so we will not forget them so easily as before. For other things that we respond to the brain will re-train itself, and redesign its connectivity so that it can make those responses become more automatic. It also learns how to use over 100 chemicals available to it in order to make remembering things possible (8 of which are used more than others).

In our spiritual lives this can be good, and it can be bad. If we have filled our minds with God’s word, the responses that God wants are more likely to be the ones that are automatic. If we have filled our minds with garbage, our automatic responses will mostly likely look like garbage.

The more we allow our minds to go down the path of lust, the more solidified and reinforced that response will become, making it both automatic and hard to override. The more we respond in anger, the more an angry response will be “chosen” without any effort on our parts; we will just explode and no one will know where it came from. The more we beat up on ourselves and cut ourselves down, the more that response will become our automatic “go to” response for every situation. The same could be said of gossiping, jealousy, negativity, worry, or a myriad of other destructive thoughts.

Samuel Johnson is credited with having said “The chains of habit are generally too small to be felt until they are too strong to be broken.”

There is at Least One Way in which God and Satan Want the Same Thing

They both want to bring our thinking in line with theirs so often that it becomes natural for us. When what previously required an insertion from an outside source (God or Satan) has become a common thinking process for us without any outside help, one of them has reached his goal in regard to that one thing. The more levels on which that can happen, the more control either God or Satan has over us without exerting any effort at all.

Unfortunately, learning to habitually think Satan’s thoughts requires much less effort than learning to think God’s thoughts. It only requires coasting, going with the flow, never fighting back. However, training ourselves to think God’s thoughts requires disciplined Bible reading, going against the flow of our natural minds, and constantly “taking captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (II Cor 10:5). You have to really want to think like God thinks; it has to be one of your top priorities. To learn to think God’s thoughts all the time requires great purpose, while learning to think Satan’s thoughts all the time requires no purpose, no discipline, no effort at all.


Romans 12:2 talks about a transformation God wants to bring about within us and its key element is the “renewing of our minds.” Part of that process involves replacing certain well-established responses with new ones. We cannot just get rid of the bad mental habits, our only option is to replace one habit with a different habit. It takes lots of effort over much time, but it will be well worth it.

The next lesson is Trouble Making Decisions